No part of me had been anticipating Ubisoft’s For Honor.
It’s core motif is “who would win in a fight: a knight, samurai, or viking?” The last time I wondered about the logistics surrounding an anachronistic, multi-cultural battle like that was probably around the age of ten. It’s not to say that hypothesizing about a fictional battle of fighting styles is immature, the long running TV program “Deadliest Warrior” wondered the same thing and it’s core demographic was slightly above the age of ten. It’s also not to say that I’m terribly mature myself, as this story definitely contains a pot-brownie.
The footage I’d seen of For Honor during E3 2016 seemed to combine MOBA-like creep waves pushing towards capture-points and heated one on one duels between live players. It’s these one-on-one duels that had me nervous. I’d heard comparisons to fighting games like Street Fighter with the weighty physics of Dark Souls. Half of that sounded good to me. I’ve tried to like fighting games my entire life but usually walk away feeling more intimidated than feeling that “I had fun.”
A few days ago I may or may not eaten a very large piece of pastry, that may or may not been full of marijuana. With foggy eyes I watched some gameplay footage of For Honor and decided that I had to try it. It looked just too strange to not give a shake. Each battle seemed to have two layers of strategy, one, in the moment-to-moment dueling, the other, capturing points and moving through the map. I usually buy physical copies of games that I’m not 100% sold on, just in case I’ve made a terrible mistake (looking at you Watch Dogs 2) so I stumbled my way to the GameStop a half-mile away from my apartment.
Every time I step into GameStop, I’m struck by how utterly ashen and blighted it feels.
Something sucked the life force out of this store so many years ago, but it somehow shambles forward each day, closer to the abyss. There was only one gentleman working the register and he’d amassed a line. There was an argument happening between him and a customer, but I was definitely more stoned than was comfortable, so I kept my headphones in and pretended that the employee and customer were pantomiming the episode of My Brother, My Brother and Me I was listening to. I eventually got to the register and scooped up a copy of For Honor.
When I was walking home I was hit by a sensation I hadn’t felt in a while. I was about to play a game that I knew next to nothing about, that is outside of my comfort zone, that may have been a waste of money – it was something totally new. Something about that was thrilling, like walking home from Funcoland with an old Genesis game, having only had the box art guide my purchase. The irony that this sensation, of stepping into the unknown, was provoked by a Ubisoft game was not lost on me.
What struck me first about For Honor is how small the maps are compared to how many players populate it.
Another player is just a stone’s throw away. What that means is that the 1v1 duels that had me so nervous are frequently interrupted by a teammate or another enemy crashing into the fray. By the same token, I could be the one to do the crashing. I picked a fast and nimble character, as is my style, and quickly settled into a rhythm of finding opportunities to aid an ally in taking down their quarry, or jumping somebody from behind, then running away. What Ubisoft never told us about For Honor is that retreating is just as important as fighting. If you’re outnumbered 3-1 you will die. If you’re outnumbered 2-1, you will probably die.This makes picking your battles the number one strategy. Ubisoft also never told us that deciding to run away feels really good. I’ve had more “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” moments in For Honor than I’ve had in any game in recent memory. I love those moments.
For Honor’s core game mode, Dominion, is that with the aforementioned MOBA elements, which after playing the game, are pretty minimal. The absolute best comparison I can make is to playing tag as a kid. I think it’s due to the close quarters combat – I never have that feeling playing Battlefield, for example. Running away from an opponent towards your teammates always has me saying “you can’t catch me, you can’t catch me!”
The actual combat itself is staggeringly deep. So deep that I’m not sure I’ll be able to dive that far, but it has me constantly learning and very slowly getting better. The kicker is that I’m mastering just one of the twelve characters. Not only do they have their own move set, but they function very differently in the strategic layer of gameplay. One character might be more of a tank, another an assassin. This means that team diversity is extremely important, and team fights can have the same thrill as Overwatch if both sides are firing on all cylinders. I can absolutely see this becoming an E-Sport. This isn’t a complaint, but one of the strangest bits about For Honor’s character lineup, is that each faction – knight, samurai, and viking, each has their own tank, assassin, etc. The result: I can’t discern a notable difference between each faction’s take on fighting, meaning that the differences are mostly cosmetic, which is sort of antithetical to the game’s core premise.
One legitimate complaint is that rage-quitting is currently a big issue in the player base. It’s not quite as bad as Overwatch’s solution, to just end the game if somebody quits, but it’s not great. If a player leaves, the entire game pauses while a bot is injected into that player’s spot, which is better than nothing I suppose. Unfortunately the bots might as well be lumps of hamburger ready to be kneaded. The underlying issue is that there doesn’t seem to be any penalty for quitting a match, meaning a battle can quickly swing once a bot joins the battle.
Two days later, I can say that I am in love with For Honor. I don’t know if this honeymoon phase will extend into a full blown relationship, like the one I had with Rainbow Six: Siege (another strangely obtuse, odd-ball Ubisoft game.) But if you’re the kind of person that needs to have a catchy, multiplayer-focused game on their hard drive, and are sick of the FPS flavor of the month, I can heartily recommend For Honor.